This week’s edition of Cheat Codes For Real Life delves into some ways to help you save some money. Look, we know that no matter how many times we tell you to work smarter, not harder; the reality is this – hard work is what puts money in the bank. Well, with today’s tips, you can work on keeping more of that money in your bank, while still getting to indulge in some discretionary spending. As always, enjoy and share this and the other great content at FirstAndMonday with your friends.
This tip may not feel like it matters as much now as it did a year ago, but anytime you can shave some cents of the price per gallon, it’s a good idea to try. You may know of, or even be enrolled in, programs at your local grocery store that gives you “gas rewards”. The essence of the deal is that for your loyalty and spending at their store, you accrue discounts off fuel purchases at participating stations. The problem is the discounts just don’t seem to add up very fast because you only will spend so much on food at any given time.
The way to beat the system is to think outside the traditional items you buy in a grocery store. No, we don’t mean personal care products; buying Axe Body Spray or some new hair gel isn’t going to change the game. Instead, think about what larger expenditures you may have coming up. Time to replace a refrigerator or oven; need a new grill or lawn mower; doing a large home improvement project? You are going to drop some coin on those items whether you like it or not. But before you lay down cash or your credit card at Lowes or Home Depot, stop by the gift card display at your grocery store. Look what’s sitting there – gift cards for the store you were about to spend a decent amount of money at. If you buy gift cards in the amount you will need for your purchase elsewhere, it costs you no more money, but you get those additional gas discounts.
Bonus tip: Double up your points. Get even more benefits by paying for the purchase with a credit card with a solid rewards point platform. You get the gas points for the gift card purchase, as well as your credit card points. So you just paid yourself. Be aware, some stores limit the amount of gift cards (or simply the amount of any single gift card transaction) that can be done on credit. If you need some suggestions on good rewards points programs, check back in the coming weeks for some tips on how to choose which is right for you..
Automate Your Savings and Investments
Part of saving money is not just buying for less, it’s actually putting money up for future uses. An even better approach is to try to invest so that your money actually earns you money. For many, the concept of investing seems overwhelming, and for many more that concept of savings is difficult to implement. Does that describe you? Yeah, we thought it did. After all you are reading this column and probably slacking off at work. Fortunately, like many things, technology can make your life simpler. Two apps have debuted that take different approaches to savings, but both are well worth a look.
Digit takes the approach of conducting an analysis of your monthly cash flow through your primary bank accounts, and determines how much you can afford to allocate for savings. Based off the findings, it will automatically transfer that amount into a savings account for you each month. They are so confident in this system that they even guarantee to cover any overdraft that occurs due to their process.
To be fair, this is not a complete win for you. The “catch” is that the interest earned on the savings account your money is deposited into is kept by Digit as its “fee” for their service.
Even factoring that in, this is probably your best bet at automating savings if you want to maximize the amount of money you put up for future use or investment without sitting down and figuring it out for yourself.
No app needed for Digit, just sign up at their website, and link your accounts to begin saving.
If you don’t want to wait on the investing aspect or have a change collecting habit, Acorns may well be the app for you.
Let’s address the philosophy and mechanics first. Maybe you have adopted the routine of your father or grandfather, and dump your pocket change in a container at the end of each day. Maybe you are even as diligent as they were about rolling it and cashing it in for some folding money. But more likely, you just dump it into a Coinstar or similar machine, or never do anything with it.
Two things to consider here – 1) those change machines you find at stores are a ripoff, and 2) the concept of change is somewhat outdated with the use of credit and debit cards.
Yes, it would suck to roll your coins yourself. That is the epitome of working harder. The problem is that you are giving away your money to those machines that charge an exorbitant premium for their service. If you don’t feel like counting by hand, look into buying a coin sorter/roller. Just one or two uses will usually offset the premium you pay to tote your change to a store to use the coin machine there.
But the second point is even more valuable these days. Most of us don’t carry cash, and thus do not end up with much “change”. Rather we just swipe the card of our choosing, and that $15.32 purchase is done, no need to worry about the $0.68 making noise in your pants all day. If you aren’t already investing or saving as much as you need to, or would like to be doing, technology has a solution.
Pioneered by banks, such as Bank of America and their “Keep the Change Program”, Acorns allows you to automatically rounded up to the next whole dollar for all purchases with any credit or debit card, with the difference being swept into a savings or investment account. Normal savings account may help you put money up, but honestly, they don’t make you much return. This is where Acorns goes next-level.
Starting with the same premise, Acorns sweeps the rounded up difference into an investment account where the funds are used to invest in stocks, mutual funds, and the like. Feel uncomfortable with investing because of lack of experience? Yes, you should probably educate yourself, but if you want to dive right in, the Acorns platform will make it easy by setting your investment goals, and investing your money on your behalf.
Major bonus: No fast talking brokers trying to upsell you on some fly-by-night company. You know the guys we are talking about.
As with Digit, a cautionary word about fees. Acorns charges you nothing for a zero account balance, but will charge you a dollar per month for accounts under $5,000.00, and 0.25% on accounts exceeding that amount. If you only have $10.00, you are paying that $1.00 charge, or the equivalent of 10% for their service. Also, be aware, that while you can link all your debit and credit cards, the money is not actually added to your purchase at a given location. Rather, Acorns calculates the round-up amount (which is configurable), and at the end of the month will debit it from your primary checking account that you have designated.
Acorns allows you flexibility by offering an app on Apple, Google, and Amazon, so all platforms are covered (unless you are still using Blackberry with no other app store available on your device, and if that’s you, seriously, rethink life…NOW).
Turning Gift Cards into Profits:
So, Christmas was over three months ago, and you probably still have some unused gift cards stuck in a card somewhere. Maybe you don’t like the store, or just can’t remember to take it with you. Well, sell it online.
A number of sites exist that will allow you to sell your gift card. Usually a discounted rate will be paid and/or a service charge applied, but hey, cash money to use how you want is better than $50 worth of plastic good at restaurant or store you hate.
A couple of our favorites for you to consider are CardPool, Raise, CardHub, Giftcard.com. While we have heard positive things about all four sites, our personal experience with CardPool makes it our top recommendation. So knowing this, go did through those old gift cards (even partial balances can be sold), and make some money off of them.
Now that you know a secondary market exists for gift cards, the real trick can be revealed. If there is market to sell, then there is a market to buy. And this is the area you should be in.
If you shop or dine somewhere regularly (you non-spontaneous creatures of habit would never do or admit to something so mundane, but we know…we know), buy gift cards at discounts that can be over 20% at times. Even on smaller discounts, this is well worth your time. You are effectively buying everything on sale, even meals at restaurants.
Bonus Tip – use your credit card to buy, so that you maximize your points.
Double Bonus Tip – Look for cards that may be labeled a specific store or a restaurant, but are valid at the entire umbrella to which that location belongs. For example – Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish, Roy’s, and Flemings are all under one umbrella, and a gift card that is valid at one is usually valid at any. So if you want to hit up Bonefish, but no cards are available, or one of the other restaurants in the chain has a bigger discount available, grab that card and use it. The same thing works for many clothing retailers that are part of a larger group.
To help you out, here are some popular restaurants and their umbrella grouping:
And one that we figure most know, but if not, for clothing options:
Are any of these tips going to make you rich? No. Are they legitimate ways to save some money. Damn right. Best of luck, and if you have any tips or tricks of your own, please share them in our free forum.